Monday, May 17, 2021

Never forgotten

Staff Reporter | May 4, 2021 2:49 PM

BIG CREEK — A sense of somber washed over the crowd on Sunday morning as Christopher Bishop prayed over the proceedings at the Sunshine Miners Memorial.

That feeling, mixed with the renewed sense of normalcy that accompanied a mass gathering, of which Shoshone County hadn’t seen of that size in quite some time, made the 49th anniversary of the disaster a memorable experience for all who attended.

In the late morning hours of May 2, 1972, around 11:40 a.m. two electricians on the 3700 level of the Sunshine Mine noticed the unwelcome smell of smoke wafting down the drift past their shop.

Immediate rescue efforts were slow as the smoke was being circulated throughout the mine via their proximity to the fresh air intake system.

At 1:02 p.m. the No. 10 Hoist was no longer able to be operated safely.

173 men went into the mine that morning, 80 were safely evacuated, and of the 93 miners who remained trapped 91 of them perished.

Rescue crews arrived as soon as 2 p.m. on that day, but initial rescue attempts were unsuccessful.

Two days later, as rescue crews were both searching for survivors, as well as the deceased, they discovered the two men who survived the disaster.

Lee Haynes spoke at the ceremony and gave his perspective on the long gone, but not easily forgotten events of May 2, 1972.

Reflecting on the events of that day can be difficult, both emotionally and physically, as memories fade some of the sharper points become dull over time, but Haynes fortunately was able to lean on a valuable asset to tell his story.

"Snapshot Memories: The Life and Times of a Miner's Kid" is a book that Haynes wrote, which allows him to almost perfectly reflect on his part.

“I used to think that 49 years was old,” Haynes said. “Now I’m remembering the things that happened 49 years ago.”

Haynes was working at the Bunker Hill Mine, as well as the leader of the Army Reserve Unit in Wallace, when he heard of the situation at the Sunshine Mine.

His involvement was one of the more unheralded sides of the disaster as he and his unit were tasked with handling — for better or for worse — the crowd control at the mine.

Particularly, handling the aspect of unsurprisingly nosy members of the media who were there to report on what was becoming one of the worst mining accidents in modern history.

As new information was coming to the surface, the media was blended into the throng of families who were waiting for any news, but it became the efforts of Haynes and his company to make sure that grieving families were able to receive any news without being potentially harassed by reporters.

Haynes was even threatened with a lawsuit by members of the media, but received support from locals and even from then-Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus, who promised a pardon and to cover any fees or fines that may accompany said suit.

Haynes’ recollection was then followed by the tradition reading of the names.

No matter how many times you hear it or witness it, as the guest narrators list the names of the 91 men who lost their lives — moving level by level — is among the most hauntingly beautiful experiences that accompany the annual memorial.

Those names are followed by the names of the 45 other miners who have perished in underground accidents since the Sunshine Mine Disaster.

The event staff did announce that next year, the 50th anniversary, will be a bigger event than what people have grown accustomed to.